Meeting the Pope, how will I dress?

Rss Feed Twitter Facebook Print

The Queen Sofía of Spain is allowed to wear white in front of the Pope

There is a precise protocol to be followed: black dress, long sleeves and a veil for women, tuxedo for men. A white dress? Only for Catholic queens

Giacomo Galeazzi

Vatican protocol states that for papal hearings, women should wear long sleeves, formal black clothing and a black veil to cover the head. Since the 1980’s, however, the dress code (tailcoat for men, black dress and veil for women) has become far less rigid.

Only in private hearings with the Pope are women required to cover their heads and wear mourning clothes. In hearings with the Holy Father, women are required to wear a dress with a sober cut and colour, which should preferably be black. At the end of the pontifical ceremony, the faithful are called to greet the Pope by kissing his hand. Women may wear a dress but it must not be low cut, it must cover the shoulders and the skirt part should be below the knee.

Naturally flashy jewellery should be avoided: something discreet and elegant is fine, and if one has to choose, it is better to wear less than to overdo it. In general one should not exagerate with accessories and these should not have any loud colours. Above all, it is important to remember to keep the head covered at all times. The Pope should be addressed as “Your Holiness”.

The privilege of wearing a white dress during hearings with the Pope is only granted to Catholic queens or Catholic spouses of kings. They are allowed to wear a white dress instead of the usual prescribed black dress. Currently, this privilege extends only to Queen Sofia of Spain, Queen Paola of Belgium, Queen Fabiola of Belgium and the Grand Duchess Maria Teresa of Luxembourg, all from Catholic monarchies.

When there was a monarchy in Italy, the privilege was also granted to the Queen of Italy. Despite their being Catholic, the privilege does not extend to the Princedoms of Monaco and Liechtenstein. The wives of the presidents of the republic are not granted the privilege of wearing white. Many female leaders no longer wear black during papal audiences: neither Mary Robinson nor Mary McAleese, the two female Irish Presidents, ever wore black during John Paul II’s audiences, while Russia’s first lady Raissa Gorbaciova wore a red dress to one of the papal audiences. Cherie Blair, the wife of the British Prime Minister Tony Blair sparked controversy when she wore a white dress to the audience held by Pope Benedict XVI  in 2006.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Meeting the Pope, how will I dress?

  1. golden chersonnese says:

    Perhaps there’s a reason for the odd exception.


  2. toadspittle says:


    While the crucified Christ must make do with a beach towel. Odd.


  3. toadspittle says:

    Naturally flashy jewellery must be avoided..

    What! No bling!

    Not even a giant gaudy, gold crucifix on a big, fat gold chain, like the ones he’s wearing in the pictures on the right?

    What is the world coming to?


  4. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    There is clear advice above, in bold, for women not to wear lowcut dresses. I think the Q of Spain is depending on the Catholic penchant for monarchs to be forgiven for ‘letting it all hang out’.

    The Holy Father will certainly get an eyeful. And that’s wrong, just plain wrong.


  5. golden chersonnese says:

    I favour the Morticia Addams look, personally.


  6. Not that it’s ever likely in my case, but when kissing the Pope’s ring, does one genuflect on the left knee or the right (as for God)?


  7. Gertrude says:

    When greeting or leaving the Pope or other hierarchs with the rank of Bishop or above and who have jurisdiction over you (only when the Pope is not present) — e.g., to the Bishop or Archbishop of your diocese, not of a neighbouring diocese. During the left-knee genuflection, a kiss is given to the hierarch’s ring. Then stand.


  8. Thank you, Gertrude.

    Could you point me to the source of your info?


  9. Gertrude says:

    I had meant to acknowledge it – thanks for reminding me. The best site for all protocols, ie. when to kneel, when to bow etc., is Fish Eaters. ( It is an Orthodox Catholic site, and contains a lot of traditional, orthodox information.


  10. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    My goodness, a blast from the past. G tells us of the protocol about kissing the ring of the hierarch. As an 11 year old, at the blessing of our new school of St Joseph’s, I was the cross carrier before the Bishop’s classroom progress, only because the available altar boy vestments fitted me. And yes, I was to kneel and kiss the ring…………………. I’m too stiffbacked to ever do that now.

    But my lovely wee mammy from Cork was so proud. I was indeed a good boy then, and only later in life did I hurt her.

    50+ years later, the memory carries an emotional charge.


  11. The Raven says:

    Bling? Now I know where Toad takes his style pointers from:


  12. toadspittle says:


    Toad is open to all style pointers.

    Re: The Papal Ring,he remembers the comedian Lenny Bruce saying, ” If Jesus was to come back down to earth today, the first thing he say to the Pope would be, ‘Take off that big ring!’

    But, as Lenny was a homosexual, Jewish, drug addict, Toad thinks we need not take his comments too seriously.


  13. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    I read today that in Salamanca, Spain, among the wealth of stonemasons work, one carving depicts an amphibian beastie on top of a man’s head, allegedly signifying lust. Well, who’d a thunk it?

    I like Sala, but missed that one. I did like the wall where there are so many conchas – the shells of St James.

    Yet many historians say it was a tragedy when the Moors were evicted from Salamanca and Spain – all that tolerance, learning, architecture and gracious living thrown away.


  14. rebrites says:

    Who is the other Catholic potentate in the photo, the blonde wearing a frock of more conventual cut? Name that queen!


  15. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Rebrites, that may be the ghost of Freddie Mercury…….


  16. Gertrude says:

    Elizabethan times in England are often referred to as being a ‘Golden Age’., and maybe it was – but certainly not for ‘papists’ who were summarily tortured and executed in a most horrifying way.All men and all faiths certainly have periods in history that they would rather had not happened, and we don’t appear to have learnt the lessons of history.

    Regarding Moorish Spain, well I can’t imagine anyone visiting the Alhambra who cannot be moved by the beauty of the place, We should remember that Islam can boast some of the finest scholars of ancient times, and the best seats of learning. What a shame that fundamentalism (in whatever guise) becomes the yardstick by which we measure, and thereby forget the positive that emerges from these faiths.

    Just as an add-on, I seem to recall that the Magi were probably Zoroastrians!!


  17. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Actually, I’m amazed and in awe of anyone who can tell a woman what to wear. I have always found them to be spitting felines with vicious claws when advised on dress sense.
    Mad, bad, and dangerous.

    That Spanish queen woman seems to have got away with it, defying protocol with her decolletage.

    Mind you, Islam seems to have managed it.



  18. golden chersonnese says:

    rebrites: Name that queen!

    Is it the Grand Duchess Maria Teresa of Luxembourg?


  19. toadspittle says:


    “…those so tolerant historians who love Moorish culture and hate Christians can go to a Muslim country any time to enjoy the tolerance, great learning and beauty of the Moorish culture, the puzzling thing is that they still prefer Europe? Why?

    Says Teresa.

    Toad doubts that there is one in a million humans, let alone ‘historians,’ who ‘love’ Moorish culture and consequently ‘hate’ Christians (Not Christianity, lets us note, they hate the very people, apparently.) There may well be people, historians even, who appreciate Moorish culture, but it does not follow that there is a corresponding mandate on their part to hate other things.
    This is a really offensive post, Teresa, or so Toad thinks, and he is surprised by you. You should have left it down. Thinks Toad.
    And, the obvious reason why ‘tolerant historians who love Moorish culture’ prefer to live in Europe is because one can’t get a decent gin and tonic in the Middle East. Apparently.


  20. golden chersonnese says:

    Well, we should have the full set of white-enshrouded Catholic Her Majesties and Royal Highnesses, rebrites.

    King Albert and Queen Paola of the Belgians:

    Queen Fabiola of Belgium:


  21. toadspittle says:


    “I like Arabian music myself but I won’t say that the Reconquista was evil.”

    Well. Teresa, Toad doesn’t recall anyone suggesting that you should.


  22. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Thank you Teresa for restoring your post. You will forgive me for paraphrasing it when it vanished. I don’t have the luxury of deleting mine. I can’t even get off ‘guest ‘ status. I am walking the plank, I fear.

    You spoke of historians ‘hating’ Christianity which I didn’t mention, and which the historians didnt either. You are off in the void here. I got the feeling (only an intuition) that you don’t like Muslims and Islam. I have serious issues with Islam, but there’s a lot about it and its culture I like. Despite their opposition to the fruits of the vine which is wrong, just plain wrong.

    You say you removed your post because it ‘wasn’t worth arguing with’ me. Well , in one way that’s fair enough, in another it’s not good enough. Argue with me any time you like on what I’ve said (and not what you invent). If you convince me I’m wrong, then I’ll own up and agree with you. I’ve done that already with others. If you think that this site is for all to kiss and agree with each other, then it will sink into obscurity and fade away. Think about that, even if you can’t agree with me. Try to see the bigger picture, willya? (sorry, too much Raymond Chandler here).

    Every discussion needs an articulate dissenter and I nominate you, Teresa.

    However, are you an American person? I get the whiff of Mrs S Palin in some posts.

    But I want to love you just the same.


  23. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:


    Can you shed any more light on this royalist culture?

    Should we promote it?

    Or indeed


    Being totally tonsured, I cannot tug the forelock. To my sorrow.

    Thomas à Beckett neither, and look what happened to him.
    Are you with Henry IV on this one?


  24. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Teresa, just a teeny point here: you say you like ‘Arabian’ music, or perhaps ‘Arabic’ music. That’s a bit like saying you like ‘European’ music. That encompasses quite a lot, you’ll surely agree.

    Incidentally, the Moors who occupied Spain were not ‘Arabic’ or even ‘Arabian’ – they were Berber people. They have many ties even today with Spain, where the culture of Al Andalus/Magreb is honoured in Morocco, for many still retain the Spanish language. And those nasty Muslims gave sanctuary to the Jews who were chucked out of Spain by Ferdie and Isa. For example, the Sebag-Montefiore Jews who ended up in Essaouira.

    I recommend this Atlantic-washed town to you, to better understand what’s what.
    Great rugs there too, but bargain really hard.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s